Neither fading nor decaying, unaging

Wednesday, 13 November, 2013

If those much-derided artificial flowers on the hospital bedside table lack scent says C.P.Cavafy, there’s no need to get upset. “We’ll pour out perfume, burn romantic myrrh before them.” Oscar Wilde would have loved that approach to such an aesthetic challenge.

Artificial Flowers

I don’t want real narcissi — neither lilies
nor real roses please me,
decorating trite and common gardens. I am grieved,
fatigued, afflicted by their flesh
their perishable beauty bores me.

Give me artificial flowers — porcelain and metal glories —
neither fading nor decaying, forms unaging.
Flowers of the splendid gardens of another place,
where Forms and Styles and Knowledge dwell.

I love flowers made of glass or gold,
true Art’s true gifts,
their painted hues more beautiful than nature’s,
worked in nacre and enamel,
with perfect leaves and branches.

Their charm derives from wise and pure Good Taste;
they didn’t vilely sprout in dust or mud.
If they lack scent, we’ll pour out perfume,
burn romantic myrrh before them.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933). Artificial Flowers translated by Peter J. King and Andrea Christofidou

“But if the importance of Cavafy’s poetry is his unique tone of voice, there is nothing for a critic to say,” wrote W.H. Auden, and he continued: “For criticism can only make comparisons. A unique tone of voice cannot be described; it can only be imitated, that is to say, either parodied or quoted.” Then, paying the ultimate compliment, Auden noted: “I have read translations of Cavafy made by many different hands, but every one of them was immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.”

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